Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Blue Skies Ahead For Daybreak Games?

It's really not my intention to stalk Smed. I don't even follow him on Twitter. Okay, that doesn't prove much - I don't follow anyone on Twitter. I don't do Twitter.

Well, not as such. I do have an account. I had to make one years ago to play Echo Bazaar, as it was called back then, now known as Fallen London and well worth a look if you haven't already tried it. As is Failbetter Games newer title, Sunless Sea, which I have only watched someone else play on YouTube. Or was it Twitch? Wait, I remember, it was Total Biscuit (what kind of a name is that, anyway?).

Sunless Sea isn't an MMO so naturally it's been reviewed, very favorably, in the mainstream press. The Guardian gave it four stars. The Daily Mirror gave it five! And that's the first and probably the last time I'm going to link to The Mirror...

Where was I? Oh yes, President Smed.

The Big Landmark Wipe finally arrived yesterday. Scheduled originally for the end of last month it got bumped, first to the fifth, then to the eleventh and finally back down again to the fifth of May, which was yesterday. The servers will be down for two or three days after which the new, all-singing, all-dancing, still-not-ready-for-open-beta-let-alone-prime-time Landmark will sidle onto the servers hoping no-one is looking. I'll probably log in then and see if it feels any different, wander aimlessly around for a while, decide it's too laggy and log out. That's the usual routine.

I may not have been playing Landmark much, or indeed at all, but I'm still interested in it. Somewhat. Enough to visit the forums, on and off, to take the temperature of the waters. Which is how I came across a couple more of Daybreak President John "Smed" Smedley's always entertaining interviews.

How about a chicken next time? Seems more of a fit, somehow. Can't imagine why...

Players of games from the Daybreak Games studio (née Sony Online Entertaiment, née Verant Interactive, or was that the other way around?) love nothing better than to use the official company forums to link to anything their President ever says, mostly so they can point to everything that confirms their perpetual belief that the sky is falling and then cluck about it.

The first is with Gamasutra where Smed is once again accompanied by his hapless PR minder Senior VP of Marketing, Laura Naviaux. It's another "industry" piece and it has plenty of meat on finances and processes.

The second is much more directed to an audience of people who actually play Daybreak's games, or might be persuaded to do so. It was conducted by Veluux of Ten Ton Hammer. He asks Smed, who seems to be soloing this time, some very pointed questions and gets some surprisingly straight answers. I thoroughly recommend everyone interested in the future of the Everquest franchise, including EQNext, takes time to read it.

Doom-mongers will be disappointed with both these two chats, especially the TTH outing, in which Smed is very clearly on some kind of charm offensive aimed at PC gamers in general and his existing Everquest playerbase, past and present, in particular. Far from confirming any falling sky rumors Smed makes every effort to lean hard on the scaffolding that holds everything up to show just how sturdy and reliable it all is.

Morrissey would feel right at home on any Everquest franchise forum

I was trying to hold off doing the quote thing again but I can't resist a few. Here's the President in full damage-control mode. Veluux had just asked him straight out whether Daybreak plans to move away from developing games for the PC platform:

"Let me start at the last part first, because when I get a question like that, if I'm not careful how I answer people might think I don't like PC. PC is our primary focus for all of our games. Period. We love PC, we're never going away from it."

Even more reassuringly, in response to another very direct question about the security of the older EQ titles going forward, Smed makes this forceful and unequivocal statement:

"They will continue to exist well into the foreseeable future. Not only have there been no discussions but we haven't even talked about it because these games are all very healthy."

He's even prepared to give timescales:

"What you can expect from us with EverQuest, and I'll say the same goes for EverQuest II, we expect that these games which are already out are going to be around here at least five years from now." 

It's a secured tenancy on a five-year lease...unfurnished let.
There. That clear enough for you? Now you can relax. Except now I have David Bowie's  Five Years playing in my head and that's not reassuring at all...

I could go on pulling quotes out of both interviews until, well until I'd reprinted pretty much the entirety of both of them, all cut up and in the wrong order, like one of Mr. Bowie's love-letters to William Burroughs. Probably better for anyone who's interested to go read the originals. It's all good, thought-provoking, question-raising stuff that could spawn a dozen blog posts.

The entire tenor of the Gamasutra interview is worth noting, though. Smed and Naviaux repeatedly emphasize how much more freedom the team have now as Daybreak Games, how it feels almost like a start-up, how

"it's like the difference between renting a house and owning it".

Which is all very well, except they don't own it, do they? They just have a different landlord. 

It may be true - I'm sure it is - that 

"Columbus Nova doesn't get involved, even a little bit, in game design"
 but they do hold the purse-strings. When you're saying things like

"As Daybreak, we've already had a conversation with our new owners about whether we can go get new people if we need them"  

then it hardly gives an impression of complete freedom, does it? (And it turns out the "new people" he means are in fact some of the old people he "let go" earlier this year. I think we all know how that works...). 

Also, it just seems odd to talk about the creative shackles being broken one minute and then come out with something like this: 

"...when we want to do something, a new business thing, we have to actually justify and make a business case for it." 

(That's enough Smedley quotes. Ed.)

Grrr. I said I wasn't going to do that, didn't I? It's just so hard to resist. I'll stop there. Until next time...



  1. Well, the difference between renting and owning is that when you own, you still have to send in a check every month, but they call it a mortgage, and the bank you send it to doesn't care if the pipes break or the garbage disposal is broken, you have to fix that yourself.

    Smed and DGC do seem to be a bit off the Sony leash. Whether or not that is good remains to be seen. Glad to see him backtrack on PC after telling the world that being able to support XBox was going to be the best thing ever for the company, solving all of it financial woes. But I am not as keen as Keen is for MMOs keyed to short session play. It is important to have that as a feature... which in the past has meant being able to do quests and such solo so you don't have to go through the group formation dance every time you logon just to do something... but I am not sure it means you need to throw away raids and deeper content. I think Smed would find a lot of people still raid, especially in WoW and that the "stickiness" he seeks often comes from depth, not 30 minute content.

    I am interested in the things that DGC can do now that they might not have been able to do when part of Sony. I am not sure that deal with The Imperium, giving us some in-game goodies to go play H1Z1, would have been possible. We'll see I suppose.

  2. Oh, and for me, one of the interesting bits of the TTH article was about how Storybricks and their ideas didn't really pan out and how Storybricks apparently showed up without much in the way of experience. A bit different from the Storybricks farewell note where their founder was trying to spin the ludicrous tale of Storybricks buying SOE.

    1. Yes, the Storybricks section was a real "read between the lines" number I thought. Smed also sidestepped the Vanguard Emu question by focusing on SWG but I don't read anything into that. SWG Emus are a lot sexier right now than VG will ever be.

      There were probably enough feed lines in those two interviews for me to spin up into half a dozen blog posts. I particularly liked the frantic backpedaling from full-on F2P. If there's one thing you can say for Smed it's that he's hard to back into a corner. The first of the two TTH follow-ups, the one on Smed's gung-ho attitude to Open Access and how it might come around to bite him, makes some very good points too. Smed's never short of enthusiasm but it's not always well-directed.

      As a player, a customer and a commentator I have to say that I've seen very few downsides so far to the transition from SOE to Daybreak. They may not have direct control over the finances but there's a very clear sense of a much greater freedom when it comes to running the games themselves and it feels very positive.

    2. And one more thing, putting me at my "three comments" self-imposed limit, after which I have to turn this all into a blog post, I just saw the post over at Massively OP with the click-bait "EQN isn't Vaporware" headline. That does, in fact, get brought up as the final subject in the post, wherein Smed says that EQN isn't vaporware because they don't do that. So, of course, I had to bring up The Agency and the parallels between the hype and silence cycle for that and for EQN. Haters rallied behind this, fanboys howled in protest, and I immediately felt dirty for even commenting on a commercial gaming site.

      So I would have to say that Massively OP has captured the Massive experience pretty well, if nothing else.

    3. Heh! I rarely even read the comment threads at Massively OP far less comment on them. NoScript used to automatically block the old Massively ones so I was never in the habit of looking at them anyway. Oddly it doesn't block the new ones.

      I don't have any concerns about Daybreak's intention to release EQN eventually - I do have my doubts about their ability. I guess they'll end up releasing something but how much resemblance it will bear to the NextGen miracle game they have been hyping I have my doubts. But then, isn't that always the way with MMOs?

  3. First, I am not really worried about EQ and EQ2 closing down. From everything you hear, both games are profitable. I am sure that is all a investment company will care about. But Smed coming out and saying it does not mean anything. He has countless times through said something about EQ2 and then done the opposite. His word means nothing.

    As for downsides, I have been hearing and reading about a lof of problems with the bug report and customer service. I personally have not had to try and use either lately but it sounds like it has become a lot worse or even nonexistant.

    I am worried about the size and amount of new content we get. The new download is pretty small. Using the excuse of there being less developers is ridiculous. That was their choice to lay off that many people. If you are going to give less content then charge less money. This excuse would not work in any other industry and it should not work here.

    1. In fifteen years of playing SOE MMOs I don't think I've needed to contact Customer Service more than half a dozen times so I can't say it's an aspect of the business I ever think about much. It was always reckoned to be the Rolls Royce of customer service operations for the industry though, with a level of personal attention that would have been unheard of in most of its competitors. I'm not at all surprised they've had to scale it back now that they don't have the bottomless pockets of a multinational to dip into.

      The Rum Cellar doesn't appeal to me, being all instanced dungeon content, so I haven't bought it. I may eventually but at the moment I don't even do the instanced content that came with AoM so there's not much point. Price-wise, though, I thought it looked reasonable. Maybe $9.99 would have been better but $14.99 doesn't sound out of the ballpark. There's a really good, detailed review of the whole thing on the forums which makes it sound pretty decent. Reaction seems mixed but given the usual propensity of EQ2 forum posters to rag on anything and everything they're given (or sold) "mixed" virtually amounts to a thumbs up.

      It's still early days though. We won't have a clear idea of whether Daybreak is an improvement over SOE for a year or two I'd say. It's worth remembering, though, how constantly and heavily criticized SOE always was even by its own players. It would be a bit rich to look at the last four or five years of SOE's curation of the Everquest IP as some kind of Golden Age. Even when it was the Golden Age (1999-2004) SOE was largely seen as The Devil, as was VI before that.

      Basically, whoever is in charge becomes The Man and everyone wants to Stick It To him.

    2. I agree. It is too early to tell with Daybreak. My comment was more about the man in charge. That is still a problem to me. As for Rum Cellar, I did buy it and I have enjoyed the solo and advanced solo so far. I have hear the heroic is fun. We will see about the replayablility of it. I do think the price is too much for the content so far. I said that I would buy the first one and see. I am really not sure if I would buy another one.

      The forums have been entertaining lately. EQ players really get angry at every decision.


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